Texas Programs Have Cleaned Air, Boosted Economy
The need for clean air is something we all can agree on. Texas has seen significant improvements in air quality in recent years - a 22 percent decrease in ozone and 53 percent reduction in the pollutant nitrogen dioxide (NOx) - since 2000.
Despite these gains, a new and economically threatening issue has emerged. The Obama Administration's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is putting bureaucratic process and centralized federal control ahead of environmental progress by unilaterally taking air quality decisions out of Texas and transferring control to ideologues and bureaucrats in Washington, D.C.
This is just another example of the Obama Administration's quest for tight federal controls over most aspects of American life and their disregard of individual state policies and decisions.
Texas has already demonstrated, definitively, that it can clean the air. Our so-called "flexible" permitting process was put in place 16 years ago - while Ann Richards was governor and Bill Clinton president - and allows plant managers the flexibility to reduce air pollution by managing facilities as a whole unit.
The statistics, unchallenged by the EPA, show Texas making significantly greater improvements in air quality since 2000 than the nation as a whole. EPA Region 6 Administrator Al Armendariz has recently conceded that he can't say Texas air would be cleaner had Texas adopted a federally-modeled permitting process, which his agency is attempting to mandate. His main concern seems to be that Texas permits are too hard to understand.
At best, the EPA's action will result in thousands of layoffs and reduced salaries. At worst, it will result in companies going belly-up or relocating across a border somewhere where pollution controls are lax or non-existent.
The number of Texans whose jobs are at stake is staggering: at least 49,000 Texans are directly employed at facilities with flexible permits, including nearly all of Texas' refineries. These refineries have the capacity to produce an estimated 82 million gallons of gas, 39 million gallons of fuel oil and 17 million gallons of jet fuel.
The EPA's actions will likely raise the price tag of every one of those gallons, and the cost will be passed along to motorists and energy consumers in Texas and across the nation. That means real hardship for Texas families, even those whose salaries are not directly linked to our refineries.
A myriad Texas employers use flexible permits to improve air quality, including many in vital sectors. Lockheed-Martin's Air Force Plant 4 in Fort Worth manufactures military planes like the F-16 and the F-22. Trane US, Inc., in Tyler, which manufactures produces the kind of energy-efficient heating and air conditioning units that can help households and businesses coast to coast reduce their energy consumption.
The U.S. Department of Energy recognized flex-permit holder Dal-Tile for reducing its energy consumption, and the EPA itself handed out awards to the LCRA Fayette Power plant - another holder - for exceeding environmental standards. Nacogdoches Power, building one of the largest alternative energy biomass plants in the country, also uses flexible permits.
The federal government itself uses Texas flexible permits at its facilities at Fort Bliss and the Department of Energy's Pantex facility. So even Washington, D.C. recognizes our state program provides needed flexibility to do business while protecting the environment.
Texas' system is superior, in part, because we use incentives and sensible regulatory policies to make it financially beneficial for companies to refit older facilities or build new ones altogether. Again, this is not a choice between clean air and lower prices; Texas has proven you can have both.
The federal Clean Air Act falls short of Texas standards. The federal system allows older plants to be "grandfathered" without requiring or encouraging upgrades to air quality equipment. That's why aging, inefficient facilities in other parts of the country continue to chug along, spewing out pollution using environmental technology many decades old, mostly in areas now - ironically - considered "in full compliance" with the federal Clean Air Act.
Thanks to the Texas system of incentivizing the path to cleaner air, no facilities in Texas have "grandfathered" status, having made responsible improvements resulting in both better air quality and a thriving economy for Texans.
It's many of those same employers that are now in the crosshairs of the EPA, which is effectively placing a target on the backs of all Texans.
Yes, we all want cleaner air. The difference is Texas is delivering it, and protecting jobs and families at the same time. The Obama Administration should be following our clean air lead, rather than working to scrap the Texas air permitting program.
Texans care more about our environment and economy than Washington does. Texans, regardless of political philosophy, should stand up for Texas air quality and Texas jobs by opposing the EPA's latest federal overreach.